Asked why the Prime Minister felt the need to make a speech on education at such short notice and in such secrecy, the Prime Minister’s Spokeswoman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister was keen to set out the case on our policies on higher education. It was clearly a matter of great interest ahead of tomorrow’s vote on tuition fees. In terms of secrecy, we were not able to release details of the location too far in advance for security reasons.
Asked if that meant that the case hadn’t been set out very well up until now, the PMS said that the Prime Minister wanted to set out the case himself.
Put that people could take it to mean that the Prime Minister didn’t think that the Deputy Prime Minister had set out the case very well, the PMS said that as Prime Minister he felt it was important to set out the position.
Asked when the Prime Minister had last met with students to discuss these proposals, the PMS said that she could not recall, but clearly the Prime Minister had been having discussions with people about tuition fees in many different fora.
Put that the Prime Minister had not been speaking to the relevant people today at his speech as there were no students present, the PMS said that the key point was that the Government had been listening to a wide range of views from different groups of people, and changes set out today were indicative of those views.
Put that the Prime Minister had not directly addressed students on this matter, the PMS said she did not agree with that comment; the Higher Education Minister, the Business Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister had all been meeting students in the past few days and weeks to set out the Government’s case, and the Prime Minister had set out the case again today.
Asked what would happen if a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) abstained from a Government vote, the PMS referred to the Ministerial Code and said that PPS’s were not members of the Government, however they should ensure that no conflict arose, or appeared to arise between their role as a PPS and their private interests. PPS’s were expected to support the Government in important divisions in the House. No PPS who voted against the Government could retain his or her position.
Asked if PPS’s and Ministers could be sacked if they voted against the Government, the PMS said that the Ministerial Code had to be read alongside the Coalition Document and the principle of collective responsibility. She would not preclude a hypothetical situation.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with comments that the proposals were not fair for students from poorer households, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had set out the case today for what he believed was the fairest system possible for students of all backgrounds; those from the poorest households paid less, and those who could afford it paid the most. There were no upfront fees and graduates would only start repaying when they were in a good position to do so. This was a fairer system than any other option.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought university debt was a good or a bad thing, the PMS that we couldn’t as a country afford to fund the university system as we had; it was not fair on the taxpayer. That’s why Lord Browne had carried out his cross-party review, and Lord Browne had come up with the best and fairest way of funding a first class university system.